America’s First Pizza ATM Comes to Cincinnati

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Xavier University’s Women’s Soccer Team testing the Pizza ATM

 

College and grade school kids are waking up earlier this week as they all trickle back to school.

 

For college kids at Xavier University, in Cincinnati, they’ll  have something new to help get through all those late night cram sessions.   It’s called the Pizza ATM, and it’s installed at the University’s Fenwick Place Residence Hall, outside the main dining hall. It’s America’s first automated pizza vending machine.

 

Open 24 hours a day, it dispenses fresh cooked pizzas to students within three minutes of ordering. The pizzas are hand prepped by Xavier’s dining hall staff, which has won national awards for its food. Nowadays, the quality of the food program is the key selling point to prospective students.

 

Dining halls like Ohio State’s and University of Dayton are spending hundreds of thousands of dollaers integrating theatre style cooking stations, with equipment like round Mongolian grills.   These are designed to help improve the appeal of their dining programs to finicky Millennials.

 

Xavier is hosting Pizza Chef School on campus, with Paline, the American distributor of the machine, to train others on its use and preparation.

 

The machine, made by Adial, founded in 2002, in Lisieaux, France, holds up to seventy 12 “ pizzas, costing either $9 or $10, depending on toppings.   The concept oddly enough has been popular in Europe for many years.

 

The first group to test the machine was Xavier University’s soccer team.   Teammate, Jessica Miller said “It’s really good, really cheesy, and it was really warm.”   The grand opening is officially September 8 at 1 PM, but the university hopes it will be ready for students when they return on August 22.

 

Now warm food vending is nothing new.   The Automat was a popular early 20th century American vending café. It was so popular, it was celebrated in song, humor, and visual art.   It was the restaurant industry’s first attempt at harnessing the assembly line of the Model T.  They quickly became haunts for actors, artists, celebrities, and journalists.   American realist painter Edward Hopper immortalized the Automat with his 1927 painting by the same name, showing a lone woman staring into a cup of coffee at an Automat at night.   They became known for the quality of their drip coffee.

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And we often think that America has corrupted the world with our fast food brands like YUM!   But the Automat, grandfather of the fast food industry, was actually born in Germany. The Automat was inspired by German inventor Max Sielaff’s Automat Restaurants in 1890s Berlin. He had invented the world’s first chocolate bar vending machine and his company is still in existence as a vending machine powerhouse. Germans Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart imported the concept to America.   On June 12, 1902, they opened the first Automat at 818 Chestnut in Philadelphia.  They then brought it to the Big Apple in 1912. And the Automat made its way into pop culture in northern industrial cities. Horn & Hardart was the most prominent Automat chain.

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Max Sielaff, Inventor of the vending machine and the Automat.

In halls filled with shiny, lacquered tables, women in glass booths, with rubber tips on their fingers—”nickel throwers”—gave customers the nickels to operate the machines. Customers scooped up their nickels, then slipped them into slots in the Automats and turned the chrome-plated knobs. In a few seconds the compartment next to the slot revolved into place, presenting food to the customer, who then lifted a glass door to retrieve.

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The warm food vending concept is still wildly popular in the Netherlands with FEBO!, which has locations in college cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht, and in train stations like Rotterdam.  I experienced a FEBO in Utrecht on a business trip there in 2012, and thought it was very cool!     FEBO 24 hour stores provide a variety of burgers, sandwiches, frikandellen (White Castle like sliders) and croquettes in vending machines that are back-loaded from a kitchen. They’re popular with locals, and those leaving clubs and bars late at night.

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FEBO! Automat in Rotterdam Train Station in the Netherlands.

 

 

The rise of fast food chains in the 1970s saw the decline of the Automat and its popularity was only one of nostalgia.   The last Automat closed in New York City in 1991.     So far, Xavier University’s president says they have gotten hundreds of inquiries from other universities, interested in one at their dining hall.   Whether or not they achieve the pop-icon status of the Automat remains to be seen.

 

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